Earlier this week, the Heavy Table received a note from Monica Walch, coordinator for Dinner on the Farm.
The group is hosting an upcoming dinner at Cedar Summit Dairy Farm in New Prague, MN. “Your tastebuds will tingle as JD Fratzke, one of the area’s most talented chefs, creates an unforgettable five-course dinner, using many ingredients from the farm itself,” says the press release. “We’ll keep you hydrated during the feast with local wine, beer, and spirits and you’ll have a chance to speak with many of the people who worked so hard to produce them.”
The price tag: $150 per person. As a benchmark: California’s Chez Panisse, one of the country’s leading restaurants and a pioneer of using heritage foods and farm-to-table cooking, typically charges between $60 and $90 a meal. (To be fair: the Chez Panisse price doesn’t include alcohol. But the Dinner on the Farm price doesn’t account for maintaining Berkeley real estate, either.)
What accounts for tickets this expensive? (It’s worth noting that Dinner on Farm isn’t the only local farm dinner event with prices like this; Outstanding in the Field boasts $180 tickets.)
NORTON: Thanks for the note about the event. I’ll post something about this later this morning, but I’m staggered by how expensive this current wave of upscale farm dinners seems to be.
WALCH: In regard to your concern about pricing, I just wanted to be clear about everything that is included. The ticket price includes transportation to and from the farm, a farm tour, local beer/wine/spirits, a five-course gourmet meal, gratuity for the servers, all taxes, and a live bluegrass band after dinner. Ticket proceeds left over after everyone is paid will be donated to Slow Food Minnesota, a beneficiary chosen by the farmers.
NORTON: You know, if you could divulge every aspect of your costs such that would-be diners could see precisely how the $150 price tag is determined, it would be fascinating…
WALCH: I completely understand where you’re coming from. I grew up on a small organic dairy farm in Southeastern Minnesota, where my father is still farming today. When I started discussing the concept of this event with some chef and farmer friends of mine, we went back and forth on pricing. On one hand, we want this to be accessible to all and, on the other hand, we do not want to put these small producers in any kind of difficult situation by having to donate their products.
I am completely willing to divulge cost details… this is an event whose mission is to celebrate local producers and the establishments that promote them. Let me know if this per person breakdown is what you’re looking for:
Food and Drink (most of the producers are running small businesses and need to be paid as such) = $50
Event Execution (staff, rentals, service and gratuities, advertising, utilities, misc.) = $30
Transportation = $10
Insurance = $10
Music = $10
Management = $20
Charitable Contribution = $20
NORTON: How many people are you planning on…?
WALCH: I think we’re expecting around 100 but won’t have a solid number for another month or so.
NORTON: In terms of raw food cost, $50 seems really high — can you give me a sense of the top three or four line items with prices…? Even top-notch proteins that frame a meal like this couldn’t be more than $20/pound, right…? Or is this largely a function of wine costs…?
WALCH: This is an estimate based on the chef’s recommendation on what we should be paying the farmers/brewers/vintners for their products, food and wine alike. We do not have a menu created yet as we will be using what is fresh and in season at the time of the event. Five courses plus all beverages for $50…
NORTON: For the $30 execution fee, is a lot of this the cost of paying the head chef? Is advertising a major cost? Again, what are the top three items in terms of dollars…?
WALCH: The head chef, JD Fratzke, is donating his expertise, time, and night off from his busy restaurant to support this event. Of course, we’ll be paying him for fuel and any other costs he incurs as a result. The biggest costs in this category are the rentals (tables, linens, tents, grills, chairs, etc.) and staff (including hourly pay from set-up to tear down and gratuities)
NORTON: What about the “management” cost of $20 a person? What’s that?
WALCH: This is to cover all of the costs of running a business (time, research, meetings, phone calls, legal fees, taxes, etc.)
NORTON: Thanks for bearing with me.
WALCH: I take no offense to your questions. I am glad you’re being honest about how you feel. It is very good for all of us to get this kind of feedback — I want these events to serve a genuine purpose for the Minneapolis and St. Paul food community and, with so many opportunities in the future, it’s great to hear your thoughts.